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Scholarly Introduction

Contributed Scholarly Introduction: graingerjames-westindiadiseases-1802

About this Intro


Scholarly Introduction

James Grainger (c. 1721 – 1767) a Scottish doctor, poet, and translator first published An Essay on the More Common West-Indian Diseases; in 1764. Grainger’s Essay covers a wide range of topics but primarily deals with the care and treatment of slaves in the Caribbean by using “remedies which that country itself produces” (i). The work’s intended audience was the “managers of slaves in the sugar islands,” but it was also widely utilized by “physicians and surgeons in that country” (Wright vi). Grainger received his M.D at Edinburgh University in 1753 and subsequently relocated to the West Indies (St. Kitts) in 1759 (Wright 1802).

Grainger’s Essay argues that those responsible for the management of slaves “treat them in a more scientific manner than has hitherto been generally practiced,” and outlines this philosophy by dividing the work into four parts. Parts one and two examine methods of choosing and treating new slaves. Part three discusses less common diseases such leprosy, elephantiasis, “the Joint-Evil,” Yaws, Ulcers and other illnesses along with their respective cures. The final section of the Essay outlines general observations regarding some best practices regarding slaves’ food, clothing, housing, and includes a list of medicine that “no plantations ought ever to be without” (iv).

According to Thomas Krise, Grainger’s Essay became the standard reference work for West Indian diseases and treatment immediately after its publication. The same Edinburgh publishing house, Mundell & Son, printed a second edition of Grainger’s Essay in 1802, which contains “Practical Notes, And a Linnaean Index” supplemented by William Wright, M.D.F.R.S. Physician to His Majesty’s Forces. Scholars cite Grainger’s Essay as the first Anglophone work in the Caribbean devoted to the diseases of the West-Indies, as well as one of the first works of literature that discusses the “management” of slaves. Grainger’s Essay has been cited by numerous scholars studying topics such as epidemiology, the history of plantation management and slave life, historical advocates of slavery, and ecology (see: Dumas 2013; Eugėnio 2009; Kipple 2002; LeTexier 2013; Thomas 2006). For Further information on James Grainger and his works see the secondary bibliography, attached below.



Works Cited

Dumas, Paula. Defending the slave trade and slavery in Britain in the Era of Abolition, 1783-1833, University of Edinburgh, 2013.

Eugênio, Alisson. "Enlightenment, slavery and slaves' health conditions in the New World." Varia Historia vol. 25 no. 41, 2009, pp. 227-244.

Grainger, James and William Wright. An Essay on the More Common West-India Diseases: And the Remedies which that Country Itself Produces; to which are Added, Some Hints on the Management, &c. of Negroes. Mundell & Son, and Longman & Rees, 1802.

Kiple, Kenneth F. The Caribbean slave: a biological history. Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Le Texier, Thibault. "The first systematized uses of the term ‘management’ in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries." Journal of Management History vol. 19 no. 2, 2013, pp. 189-224.

Thomas W. Krise (ed.), Caribbeana: An Anthology of English Literature of the West Indies, 1657-1777, 1999.

Thomas, Steven. "Doctoring Ideology: James Grainger's The Sugar Cane and the Bodies of Empire." Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal vol. 4 no. 1, 2006, pp. 78-111.

Secondary Bibliography

Goodwin, Gordon. “Grainger, James (1721x4–1766).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: OUP, 2004.

David S. Shields, Oracles of Empire: Poetry, Politics and Commerce in British America, 1690-1750, University of Chicago Press, 1990.



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Diseases, Epidemiology, James Grainger, Medicine, Saint Kitts, Slavery, Slave Trade, West Indies, William Wright,

Cite this Introduction

Medina, David. An Introduction to James Grainger's An Essay on the More Common West-India Diseases. (1764): The Early Caribbean Digital Archive. Boston: Northeastern University Digital Repository Service. 2016.


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PhD student at Northeastern University